Sparkle in the Darkness

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Gevalia Chocolate Mocha

Space backgroundToday’s Scripture: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. – Philippians 2:14-16a

“Don’t worry, be shiny!”

It’s the newest phrase you’ll hear me saying to my kids. It stems directly from Philippians 2:15, which was one of the first verses I memorized thanks to required camp reading at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sports camp I attended over a decade ago. Though the phrase has morphed through a couple of different stages in my household, it has become my personal default mantra when stress levels rise. It’s how I want to approach each day, and the principle behind it is how I want my three sons to learn to live their lives as well. We live in a world where so much goes wrong on a regular basis, and I believe it’s the role of committed Christians to present a hope in the joy and life of Christ so others will be motivated to explore his source of strength.

This past week we were at the beach. Sitting by an ocean is one of my favorite places to be in all the world, especially when I can share it with those I care about. I always make it a point to spend some quiet time alone, letting the first rays of the morning sunrise hit my face. It’s one of the most powerful demonstrations I can find in nature of the hope of Christ I’ve discovered in my own life. As I planted myself in the sand early in the morning on July 4th, the day we celebrate independence in the States, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of God’s presence. I’ve learned to pay attention during these times, and the message He brought forth to me on a personal level that morning was incredible. Afterward, I went for a walk in the light of the rising sun, the tide hitting my toes and teaching me (again) of the cleansing power of Christ.BreakingDawn

On my way back, I happened to see a familiar face parked in almost the same spot I had just been. I smiled because I knew God was up to something big. I went over, we hugged and laughed at the “coincidence,” and then we jumped into an amazing conversation about God’s faithfulness. At that moment in time, this particular individual was in a place where she didn’t know what her future held. She had gone through a tremendous upheaval in recent months and, though being blown away by the little ways God was reaching out to her in her time of need, was concerned. Her story reminded me so much of a painful period I went through in 2007, so, even though I knew I didn’t have the comfort she needed, I knew how to pray for her throughout our conversation. In fact, these days it’s rare for me to talk to another person without quietly praying for them in the midst.

I referenced a book to her I read a few years back called The North Face of God, which compares trials in life with mountain climbing. Though maybe not the easiest metaphor to swallow, the perspective on the Psalms and targeted prayers it offers are amazing for any difficult period. I also shared with her something God has been teaching me  about the miracle of the process. The process often gets a bad rap within Christianity, although I tend to believe victory over the difficult, drawn-out periods in our lives produces more strength than an instantaneous miracle moment. Both are great demonstrations of the power of God, but many who watched Christ perform miracles turned on him to cry “Crucify him!” Whatever novelty they wanted– and gained– from the healing power Christ demonstrated in his ministry was gone. The disciples, on the other hand, were a part of the process of Christ’s journey on earth and, except for the one who betrayed Jesus to the mob, went on to extraordinary feats.

We often have such a limited perspective on the circumstances in our lives. Who knows how God wants to use some of our most painful moments? As I reflected on that point while watching fireworks on the beach later on that evening, I chuckled at the book I had adopted as my beach read, Illusion by Frank Peretti. 2013-06-30 11.35.59So many times we are shocked at the reality of our circumstances. Sometimes our reality seems more like fiction. Sometimes the explosive quality of it is so loud we stumble around hoping we’ll head the right direction only to fall flat on our face.  There is a bigger picture, however, that points to a sovereign God who wants to reach out and direct us to the rays of the sun in the morning and the sparkle of his light in the dead of night.  There is a bigger love story to be told than any of the ones we could ever dream up or experience on our own.

Later on that night, I met a few friends down at the beach to gaze up at the night sky, including the same woman I mentioned earlier. Not only were we blown away by the vast measure of the visible Milky Way, but we also witnessed a rare phenomenon in the water: bioluminescent microorganisms coming in on the nighttime tide. It was so fun to watch the sparkle of these living things colliding at the end of our fingertips and the soles of our feet as we laughed and danced our way to a little bit more freedom. The joy experienced in those moments is something I won’t forget.

It is my prayer for all of you reading this that you experience this same joy and freedom on a personal level today. It is also my desire that you are blessed by the written words of the Scripture passages and books referenced in this blog. May the light of Christ shine into whatever darkness you may encounter. If you already know the reality of his light, may you allow it to sparkle in the night and break forth like the dawn as he leads the dance of your life!

The Power of Mom’s Voice

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Everyday Gourmet’s City Roast (in honor of a finished journey of reading, leading, and learning through a book called Unglued)

Today’s Scripture: “But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.” – Joshua 24:16, NLT (My mom’s favorite verse.)

“Read to me, Mommy.”

Two of my kids uttered these words from two separate rooms last night WAY past their bedtime. I’m a sucker for a story, so I pulled Hans Christen Anderson’s Wonderful Stories for Children up on my Android. Yes, times have changed from when I was younger, but I love that good stories can access more places and people now. When that did the trick for my oldest son (whose snore, by the way, could wake Rip Van Winkle), I moved on to Beatrix Potter for my youngest. He loves the story of Peter Rabbit. I think it’s because he shares a mischievous streak with the young bunny. He didn’t fall asleep. He wanted it read again and again.

My memorization skills don’t work nearly as well these days as they did when I was required to memorize chunks of Chaucer, Yeats, and other influential writers during my college years, but I can still recite the first and last lines of Peter Rabbit quite well. Peter Rabbit was one of my mom’s favorite stories to read to me, and I can still hear the lilt of her voice in my mind as an adult.

Now that I have my own children and can revive the good stories I discovered as a girl, I find I’m able to seal many moments of joy I had when I was younger into my heart and memory. Unfortunately, as so many reading this can probably relate to, joy sometimes escapes us due to whatever hard, unexpected trial life brings. We often cannot control the things that come at us, but we can learn to focus on the joy of the beauty God can bring from the ashes. Each moment we experience shines with a glitter all its own, and finding joy is just a matter of directing our gaze toward the sparkle. I’ve learned I can’t go wrong when I’m reading amazing stories to my kids and focusing on serving up some of God’s love to them in the process.

As promised in my last post, I will be doing what I will call summer reading highlights over the next several months. I’ll be whimsical. I’ll highlight some of the books my kids love. I’ll highlight classics. I’ll highlight works by friends (some have who asked me and some who I just love to plug). I’ll highlight good beach reads. I’ll also stay open to suggestions from you, my readers, and, as usual, I’ll keep God at the forefront. I hope you’ll stay plugged in and provide feedback throughout this journey. There will be some giveaways along the way you won’t want to miss!

Thanks for reading!

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Coffee and a Wisdom Wrap

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Iced Mocha, sipped over conversation with a friend while my three-year-old plays close by

Today’s Scripture: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Jesus in Matthew 28:20

Lately I’ve been very intentional about seeking God’s wisdom. If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve gotten a tiny snippet of my journey. Today I was reflecting on my progress and realized I’ve rediscovered three things:
1. For me, a personal relationship with Christ is THE catalyst to all things wise;
2. Wisdom is found at the end of the perseverance path;
3. Wisdom is best when shared with a friend (especially when there’s coffee involved).

That last revelation led me to search through the wonderful resources out there by some of the people I’ve gotten to know better in the past year or so. I came across an online study by Wendy Blight highlighting the book of Proverbs and knew it would be perfect to pass along to you as a wrap-up to the thoughts on wisdom I’ve shared in the past couple months.

Click here to access Wendy’s online study called All Things Wise and Wonderful: Applying God’s Wisdom in Everyday Life. You can also find the study in e-book form by clicking on the image below:

Beginning in the month of May, I will be writing more about what I’m reading. Included in these blogs will be thoughts on books of various genres and posts from those on my blogroll. My musings will continue throughout the summer and will hopefully contain enough coffee talk to keep you reading and seeking God’s grace for your life on your own.

Thank you for staying plugged in!

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The Wisdom of Honest Relationships

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Freshly Ground Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend

Today’s Scripture: One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. – Proverbs 18:24

A new Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through just opened a few minutes from my house. I happen to love their coffee, so it’s a great place to pick up goodies for those who drop by to visit me. (The down side of that is I often have leftover donuts to ward off temptation from while attempting to maintain a strict diet and workout schedule.) I’ll be the first to admit I have a thing for their coffee too, but my overall love of coffee happens to revolve around the magical moments of conversation and silence surrounding a cup shared with a good friend. I value relationships, and I appreciate honest, committed individuals who take the time to share their thoughts and heart with me.

We live in a world where honest relationships and friendships are an endangered species. Some of us are blessed to have close friends we can discuss anything with. Others, though perhaps surrounded by many people, feel the darkness of loneliness on a regular basis. BostonIn times when we are faced with acts of evil we might not understand, such as the bombing in Boston yesterday, honest relationships are vital. We need each other as we walk through life. We need to be faithful and committed friends to those who face trials. We cannot run away from each other when circumstances are hard. As so many close to the scene at the Boston Marathon yesterday demonstrated, we must run toward each other when we need help.

The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more wary I’ve become of individuals who want to monopolize others’ time and talents for their own gain. Unfortunately, I know there will be some who will try to take advantage of the tragic stream of violent acts which seem to be on the upswing in the States. I’d like to attempt to help you as you navigate the waters of new relationships during this volatile time. Here are three warning signs to look for when determining who you should invest your time, talents, and treasures in:

1. Does the individual monopolize the conversation when you are with them? Do they perk up at your comments if money or someone in a position of major influence you happen to know are mentioned?
If this is the case, it’s probably not a good idea to invest more time in the relationship. The individual in question is not obviously not interested in who you are as a person, and they will probably write you off once they have exhausted your resources.

2. Does the person or organization ignore phone calls, emails, and conversation from you that does not benefit their cause?
Though this is not always a warning sign (leaders and those who work for organizations are often busy people), if there is a lack of communication from an individual except when they want something from you over a period of six months to a year, I would advise reconsidering whether this is a cause you want to help. Either their motives are selfish or they have a problem with overcommitment and time management. Both are red flags that there might be some bigger issues down the road.

3. If you’re in a crowded room with the individual and you make eye contact or say “hi” while they’re in earshot, do they ignore you and not make an effort to follow-up afterward?
This is a sign that: 1. They are a very rude individual; 2. There is an underlying problem in their relationship with you they don’t want to address. Both of these issues lend themselves to reconsidering if this is someone who you want to invest time in. If the individual is part of a larger organization where you are treated with respect otherwise, I would say it’s more of a personal problem. If this is the case, you should address the issue one-on-one with them. If this doesn’t work, find someone who will help you mediate a conversation with them in an effective manner.

For the record, I haven’t been perfect in the way I’ve treated people over the years. I also haven’t been perfect in pinpointing healthy relationships and friendships. I’m trying to get better, and I hope you will make honest, open relationships a priority with me in a time when we all so desperately need each other. In my case, there are two things which have helped me the most over the years: 1. My close friendship with Christ; 2. A healthy prayer life. I recommend both to you while you navigate the waters of life.

Please share your perspective on this topic. Your thoughts are valuable.

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Wisdom is Found at the End of the Perseverance Path

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Sheetz Breakfast Blend (Sheetz coffee always makes traveling a little easier for me.)

Today’s Scripture:suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:3b-5

I remember the moment when I decided I wanted to be a writer with poignant clarity. I was eight years old sitting in my mom’s favorite armchair. To a kid, it was this weird pink thing that made no sense. On this particular day, however, I was too engrossed in the book I was reading to care about my surroundings.

I was an avid reader when I was younger. I still am. Back then, I read everything from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Carolyn Keene (who is really a bunch of different authors) to John Bunyan. During my moment of epiphany, I was reading an author I had found at the local library a few weeks earlier: John D. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald wrote a series of books based on the antics of a young boy nicknamed The Great Brain. I had nothing in common with the characters in his stories, but I was enthralled. As I sat in my mom’s unique salmon chair reading the first book in the series for the second time I thought: “I want to do that! I want to help kids relate to people they know nothing about and write a good story at the same time! I want to write stories they can escape into and lose track of time with.” After this, I have a vague memory of my mom yelling into the living room about the chores I hadn’t finished yet.

As I grew older, my future as a writer was shaped in both positive and negative ways when it came to my goal. One positive happened when I landed Mrs. Beaver for freshman English in high school. She was passionate about literature, and her unit on The Odyssey still remains one of the best literary learning experiences I’ve had in my life. When my parents suggested I take a more practical route while fulfilling my dream of playing Division I softball after I graduated high school, I settled on a major in English Education. They said my initial plan to major in Creative Writing wasn’t a well thought out one and that teaching would secure me a job. I also loved working with kids, so I went along with their advice and had a fantastic undergraduate experience.

After an onslaught of funerals of family and close friends in 2010, I finally sat down and started writing fiction manuscripts. I have two I’ve recently sent out to agents and editors to a very positive reception. I’m in a bit of a waiting game at the moment, but this crazy writing life is where I know I’m supposed to be. Writing has been the one consistent vehicle of growth in my life, and I’ve found a bit of a niche as a freelancer. The more I learn along the way, the more I realize I have so much more to learn.

This past weekend I had yet another opportunity to grow as a writer thanks to the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The excellence and appreciation of writing as an art form I found at one of their local conferences was right up my alley. The conversations with professionals (including some very sincere, talented editors) blessed me so much and encouraged me to continue on the path I’m on.

The path I travel is one of perseverance. I’ll be the first to tell you I haven’t arrived when it comes to writing, or even the wisdom I need to be a good writer, yet. One thing I have discovered is the learning process is often more important than the end result. I know the proper journey yields an excellent end result, but it’s the people you meet and the places you go along the way which make the effort a joyful, fulfilling one.

What about you? What are some of the moments of encouragement you’ve had along the way in your journey as a writer? I’ll be giving away some goodies I picked up at the SCBWI conference to one random commenter who responds before midnight of April 1, 2013. They are pictured below.

SCBWI GiveawayIf you’re not a writer, feel free to also respond as it relates to your life as a parent or professional. You’ll also be eligible! I look forward to your comments.

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Forgiveness is the Beginning of Wisdom

Today’s Coffee of Choice: Starbucks Breakfast Blend

Today’s Scripture: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him. – Ephesians 1:7-10

Parts of the past few weeks have been challenging. I haven’t posted much on my blog because of it. I don’t feel like I can’t address a topic as broad and dynamic as wisdom when I can’t wrap my mind around everyday occurrences. I have a track record of having massive creative blocks when I allow life to overwhelm me too much.

Thankfully, the past few days have been better. I feel like I’ve tossed a huge burden and am ready to get back into a regular writing routine. One of the big ideas I’ve been pondering while my mind has been spinning proverbial wheels in the mud is the idea of forgiveness. During my time of reflection, I’ve been reminded of how deep some of the hurt in my past has been and how little I’ve really forgiven those involved.

Yesterday, when I asked my son what he did in church, he told me that he built the wall of Jericho with his snack of cheese and crackers. I laughed. But then, as he expanded on how much fun he had while playing with his food, I started looking for the wisdom in what he was saying. I’m a firm believer God uses the normal aspects of our day and conversations to teach us deep truths. Here’s what I discovered:

We often have a little too much fun building walls based on the perishable things of our past or present. We let these walls sit there, though they can be torn down if we just utilize the tools we already have available. In my son’s case, all he had to do to knock down the wall was let his hunger get the better of him. I think it’s the same with God. Our hunger for Him and our willingness to let His hand of forgiveness grab us by the heart will take down any wall of hurt we’ve allowed to remain standing.

So, once again, I’ve found new motivation to keep moving forward on the clear path God has laid out in my life. What about you? How has forgiveness prompted you to move forward into a life focused on wisdom and purpose?

The Pursuit of Wisdom

Today’s Hot Drink of Choice: The house special from my favorite place to grab a cup of coffee: Everyday Gourmet

Today’s Scripture: Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. – Proverbs 1:7

I’ve taken a bit of a media break the past couple of weeks. My husband and I have been trying to focus on important priorities, so my time online has been much less than normal. I love communicating with people and encouraging them, and I’m enjoying again being intentional about social media and blogging this week.

In the midst of our refocusing, my family and I have been honing in on living from a place of wisdom instead of a place of want. We are doing this because we continue to have amazing opportunities and need to make sure we keep managing our lives at a place where we thrive. Our personal pursuit ties to where I’ll be going with my blog posts in the next couple of months. I’ve been focusing on leadership lately. I’d now like to now shift my attention a bit to the attribute of wisdom, which is the number one quality I see as necessary and needed as a leader. I have met so many people gifted in leadership in the past few years who fail themselves and those they lead because of a lack of wisdom. Low levels of wisdom can often lead to poor discernment in how to best run an operation, frustration, and unfulfilled potential. Admittedly, I don’t have it all figured out myself, but I would like to share what I can with you as I dig deeper in my own pursuit of wisdom. I want to start off by defining wisdom. I’ll use several quotes from the material I’m pouring through at the moment to do so. You can keep up with what I’m reading on Goodreads.

Wisdom Defined

1. Wisdom is rare. One of the main reasons is because humanity is more prone to suspicion than trust. I believe that trust in God, personal abilities, and those you lead is essential to moving forward in leadership.

“And oft though wisdom wake, suspicion sleeps
At wisdom’s gate, and to simplicity
Resigns her charge….”
Paradise Lost, Book III

2. According to Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, wisdom is the “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships.” I often see this as the weakest attribute of those attempting to lead well. The inability to correctly evaluate personal internal motives and the internal motives of others will lead to a poor track record and distrust within any discerning audience. In her book Unglued, New York Times bestselling author and co-leader of Proverbs 31 Ministries, Lysa TerKeurst makes the following point: “Oh, how corrupted motives can really make me come unglued. By motives, I mean my desires– the feelings that drive me to act, react, and live the way I live. Mostly I’m a good person with good motives, but not always. Not when I just want life to be a little more about me or about making sure I look good. That’s when my motives become corrupted.”

3. Wisdom means having good judgment based in the obvious truth of a situation.

“Fear hath many eyes; and I can at present behold things that are hid within the bowels of the earth; much more those that appear in the firmament above: a man of sound judgment, like me, can easily foretell, that it will soon be day.”
– Sancho in Don Quixote during one of his moments of wisdom (though he also has moments of foolishness)

4. Wisdom means speaking truth and not relying on hearsay. To speak truth you must know truth.

“If we want truth to guard our hearts and minds, we have to immerse ourselves in truth. We do that by opening God’s Word and letting God’s Word open us.”
– Lysa TerKeurst in Unglued

5. Wisdom includes the accumulation of knowledge. It’s important to be informed as a leader. As we read in Proverbs 1:5 in the Bible: “A wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance….”

I’d love to hear from you if you have anything else to add regarding the definition of wisdom, especially quotes! Please leave a comment.

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